Fortune smiles on heir

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 December, 2006, 12:00am

Cathy Chui is marrying into one of the city's three wealthiest families.

Though bridegroom Martin Lee Ka-shing is the younger of two sons, people close to the Lee family, headed by Henderson Land boss Lee Shau-kee, say he is the heir apparent and being trained to take over the empire.

One reason is that older brother Peter Lee Ka-kit seems to have taken less interest in the family business since Henderson China, which he headed, was privatised earlier this year and he started to devote more time to his lifelong interest in Buddhism.

According to rankings by Forbes magazine this year, their father is the 37th richest man in the world, with a net worth of US$11 billion.

In 1996, he was the world's fourth-richest man, worth US$12.7 billion, ahead of even Cheung Kong (Holdings) boss and his son's namesake Li Ka-shing, who is at the 10th spot on this year's rich list.

Mr Lee's wealth took a bad hit during the Asian financial meltdown.

In Hong Kong, only Mr Li and the Kwok brothers of Sun Hung Kai Properties - ranked 35th on the Forbes list - come ahead of the elderly Lee.

But Mr Lee is almost certainly worth more than Forbes' estimate, which is based on disclosed information about share ownership in publicly listed companies he controls, among them Henderson Land - one of Hong Kong's three largest property developers alongside Mr Li and the Kwoks - and Hong Kong and China Gas, also known as Towngas.

In an interview in 2004, the tycoon was asked who would inherit his empire. Mr Lee said: 'I'm often asked about the succession process. Fortunately, I just have two sons, not 20. Looking for a successor is not a big problem.'

It appears he has made up his mind.